When companies are hit with declining sales and shrinking
margins, the options can start to look bleak. Attacking one
challenge—by raising or lowering prices, for example—can make the
But one powerful way to shore up both sales and margins in a
downturn is to make your salesforce more effective. A global
network equipment company, for instance, recently reversed three
consecutive years of declining revenue and improved its gross
margin, primarily by revamping its sales efforts.
Some of the most effective sales operations are adjusting their
go-to-market approaches by using data, disciplined analysis and
systematic selling tools to focus their selling efforts and retain
more of the customers they want.
The key is a numbers-driven approach to boosting the
effectiveness of your sales organization. The methodology is summed
up in a framework we call TOPSales. Let's look briefly at the four
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Targeted offerings. You know who your best
customers have been. Which customers will still be strong and keep
buying in a down market? And which prospects should you go after
now? Once you identify these high-potential customers, you can
create a "heat map" of the market as a guide for your sales
efforts. A few months ago, a broadcasting company refocused its
sales team on market segments such as specialty retailers, who
badly needed advertising to counter declining consumer spending.
The result: after two months, sales in the broadcaster's two test
regions were up 90 percent and 450 percent.
Optimized tools and procedures. Sales cycles
always lengthen in a downturn. But close, disciplined pipeline
management attuned to the heat map can improve win rates. Tools
such as "digital cockpits" can help. But what matters most are
rigorous management processes and disciplines: systematic
channeling of leads to reps; routine, detailed account and pipeline
discussions; and meticulous tracking of customers' readiness to
purchase under current cash-and-credit positions.
Performance management. Territories and quotas
that made sense last year may not be realistic in today's
conditions. The network equipment company, for example, had been
pursuing 15 different industry segments, but its heat map showed
that five accounted for most of its revenue and profits. So it
redesigned territories and reset quotas accordingly.
Sales resource deployment. Measure the time
reps spend in front of customers; if it's less than it should be,
consider channeling some functions to support staff or rearranging
territories to minimize travel. A downturn also offers
opportunities to beef up less-expensive sales channels, such as
telesales or sales through partners. Aggreko North America, the
equipment rental company, directs inquiries about commodity rentals
to the Internet or handles them through telesales, while inquiries
about large consultative projects are routed to specialized sales
Readthe full article, which describes in
more detail how a disciplined, data-driven approach to salesforce
effectiveness can keep revenue and margins as strong as
Dianne Ledingham is a partner with Bain & Company and a
senior member of Bain's Customer Strategy and Marketing practice.
Darrell Rigby is a Boston-based partner at Bain & Company and
leads the firm's Global Retail practice.